Hidden deep beneath the earth’s surface or on the depths of the ocean floor, who knows what you might find. Imagine you’re out deep-sea diving or tending the farm, when you discover what appears to be an ancient artifact. You are not alone, with many now-famous finds, purely accidental. From the discovery of underground bunkers on the Dutch coast to a vast underground cavern adorned with ancient illustrations, here are 15 Most Incredible Artifacts Unearthed by Accident.
15. Hidden bunker found underground
A simple shift in the sands facing the North Sea revealed a lost city that is thought to be Hitler’s. Following his invasion of The Netherlands on May 10, 1940 the Nazis ordered Dutch slave laborers, supervised by German army engineers, to construct a secret underground facility to help Hitler maintain his iron grip on Europe.
Forming part of the Atlantic Wall from Norway to the Bay of Biscay in France, the city was located deep beneath the Dutch city of The Hague. The monumental building project included around 900 military buildings, both above and below the ground and required more than 100,000 cubic meters of reinforced concrete.
A total of 500 intact bunkers have been found. These bunkers were built in 1942 in Scheveningen for 3,300 SS soldiers who enjoyed underground living quarters, storerooms and even saunas.
Originally a fishing village, some 135,000 residents were turned out of their homes to make way for the troops during World War Two.
The bunkers found so far in the once lost underground network are being opened one by one and renovated for future generations to visit and enjoy.
14. Lascaux Cave
Whilst roaming the forests near Montigna in September 1940, four French teenagers stumbled upon a collection of prehistoric paintings.
Alerted to a mysterious hole in the ground by their dog sniffing around, the boys dropped down into a stone shaft and into an underground cave.
To their amazement, the cave walls were adorned with almost 2,000 ancient paintings and engravings.
The teenagers told their school teacher who persuaded experts to visit the cave, which is set in Lascaux.
Word of the exquisite collection of primarily large animal, typical local and contemporary fauna drawings and abstract symbols had soon spread across Europe.
Thought to be the combined work of many generations, the paintings became known as the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art.”
Although debate continues about their exact age, Historians believe they are around 15,000-17,000 years old.
The site made the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1979.
13. The Xian Terra Cotta Army
Imagine whilst out and about one day, going about your business digging a well with your fellow workmates when you happen upon the discovery of a lifetime.
Well this was a reality for a seven-man team of Chinese farmers who discovered the tomb of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty in 1974.
Whilst digging a well near the city of Xian, one of the team’s shovels struck the head of a buried statue.
Their initial thoughts were they’d struck a bronze bust or an ancient Buddha sculpture, however their accidental find proved far more intriguing than that.
In fact, after further excavation by expert archeologists, some 8,000 life-sized terra cotta soldiers, horses and chariots were found.
The life-size statues, known as the ‘terra-cotta army’, are said to have been constructed to guard Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife, and are now regarded as among the most important archeological treasures in the 20th century.
Thousands of the clay soldiers, each with unique facial expressions, were found in trench like, underground corridors, along with swords, arrow tips, and other weapons, many in pristine condition.
12. The Venus de Milo
The discovering of a mutilated masterpiece was almost overlooked due to its state of disrepair.
Found by a local farmer on the Aegean island of Melos (also called Milos) in 1820, the partial statue was that of a woman.
At the same time, French navy ensign, Olivier Voutier, whose ship was anchored in the harbor at Melos, had come ashore to search for antiquities.
Whilst digging near the ruins of an ancient theater, he noticed the farmer had discovered something while removing stones from a nearby wall.
Voutier recognized the statue and its potential significance, located the lower half and informed his superiors on board the ship.
They purchased the statue from the farmer for a modest sum, before discovering it was the Venus de Milo.
The statue, essentially created from two blocks of marble, reflected the sculptural research during the late Hellenistic Period, a technique fairly common around 100 B.C. It was presented to Louis XVIII in 1821 and he donated it to the Louvre Museum, where it remains today.
11. 700 Years Old Chinese Mummy
Road workers in the Chinese city of Taizhou Construction struck an odd object on the ground whilst widening the road.
Trying to determine what the object might be, they started digging around it until they revealed a strange object buried six feet below the surface.
Having seen nothing like it before, the stunned workers immediately called for expert assistance.
What was thought to be just a random block of cement, turned out to be something quite historic, something that had never been documented before.
Archaeologist came to investigate and confirmed the stone structure was in fact a tomb complete with body inside!
Beneath layers of different linens and fabrics, the body was still soaking wet, having spent year’s underground.
Because the body was wrapped in cloth, it qualified as a mummy. Underneath the cloth, the mummy was in excellent condition, with scientists believing it to be about 700-years-old and from the Ming Dynasty, the ruling power in China between 1368 and 1644.
The mummy who was wearing traditional Ming dynasty costume, measured 1.5 meters high and was that of a woman, with her hair, eyelashes and face still in remarkable condition, as if she had just recently died.
10. The Rosetta Stone.
Stone carved during the Hellenistic period and thought to be moved in late antiquity or during the Mameluk period was used as building material in the construction of Ford Julien.
The fort was located near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta, and its historic stone discovered by a French soldier during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt.
Pierre-Francois Bouchard found the granodiorite stele-made ‘Rosetta Stone’ in 1799. The stone was inscribed with three versions of a decree, written in Egyptian hieroglyphic, demotic, and Ancient Greek.
The decree had been issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 B.C during the reign of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes.
Believed to have once been displayed within a temple, the Rosetta Stone was the first Ancient bilingual text recovered in modern times and became key to deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphs and with it, Egyptian history.
Copies and plaster casts soon circulated throughout Europe and when the British defeated the French, the stone was taken back to London under the Capitulation of Alexandria in 1801, where it was put on public display at the British Museum.
The stone is still there and is the most visited object in the museum today.
9. The Dead Sea Scrolls
In 1947, a group of Arab teenagers discovered several ancient relics while out tending their flock.
The band of young Bedouin goat and sheepherders were looking for a lost goat near the ancient city of Jericho, one innocently tossing a stone into a nearby cave.
Upon landing, the stone sounded like it had smashed something, and the boys went to investigate.
What they found were several jars containing a collection of ancient papyrus scrolls.
With no idea of the importance of their find, the scrolls were sold to a Bethlehem antiquities dealer for less than $50.
Scholars later confirmed the tiny scraps of the scrolls were the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, and they later sold for millions.
The find sparked a frenzy of relic hunters, with several thousand other bits of papyrus located from 11 caves in total.
Said to be amongst the most significant archeological discoveries of the 20th century, these ancient Jewish religious manuscripts, date back from the last three centuries BCE and the first century CE.
Currently under the ownership of the Government of the State of Israel, the texts include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works included in the Hebrew Bible canon. Almost all of the collection is housed in the Shrine of the Book on the grounds of the Israel Museum.
8. Uluburun Shipwreck.
A day out diving for sponge became quite memorable for diver Mehmet Cakir, when he came face to face with the ruins of a sunken ship.
Whilst swimming in the Mediterranean Sea off Turkey’s Uluburun coast in 1982, he came across the 15 meter long ancient wreck quite by accident.
Although most of its cedar hull had all but disappeared, there were several ceramic jars and hundreds of glass, copper and tin ingots lying inside.
Over the course of more than 20,000 dives, underwater archeologists recovered a treasure trove of Late Bronze Age relics.
They spent 10 years studying the ancient artifacts that ranged from elephant tusks and hippopotamus teeth to jewelry and even a scarab inscribed with the name of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.
Thought to be one of the oldest wrecks ever discovered, archeologists confirmed it be some 3,300 years old, however historians are still unsure of its origins.
Nearly 17 tons of artifacts were recovered from the site. Each was analyzed and preserved.
Its cargo of copper was traced to Cyprus, but archeologists also found Mycenaean, Assyrian, Canaanite and Egyptian artifacts, with many concluding the ship may have been a merchant vessel with an international crew on board.
Now on display in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, the collection of late Bronze Age objects is one of the most magnificent ever found in the Mediterranean basin.
7. Antikythera mechanism
The world’s first mechanical computer, or an elaborate astronomy tool, questions remain unanswered, following the accidental discovery of a bronze mechanism by a diver over 100 years ago.
Like something from a fantastical treasure movie, its discovery in the sunken wreckage of the Greek Cargo ship ‘Antikythera’ remains a major archaeological head-scratcher.
The wreck, considered to be at least 2,000 years old, was discovered in the spring of 1900 by a group of Greek sponge divers. They were on their way to Tunisia, and while taking shelter from a storm near the island, discovered the wreck between 40 and 50 meters below the surface.
Two navy ships were sent to the area to help recover the wreck and excavate anything left on board, which included three life-size marble horses, jewelry, coins, glassware, hundreds of works of art, and an unassuming lump of bronze.
This unassuming lump turned out to be the most surprising discovery of all. It contained an intricate mechanism with rows of interlocking gears laid neatly on top of one another. It also had mysterious characters etched all over its exposed faces and was thought to be a navigational device of some sort, used to predict the position of the planets and stars in the sky depending on the calendar month.
Another theory claimed the mechanism was an early computer, used to plan important events, including religious rituals and agricultural activities.
Whatever its purpose, the ‘Antikythera’ mechanism changed the face of ancient technology, pre-dating anything else approaching its level of sophistication by over one thousand years.
Despite the intriguing discoveries in, on and around the wreckage, the site remains largely unexplored, due to its location.
Too deep for scuba divers and too shallow for a human-occupied submersible, we may never know what other secrets the Antikythera may hold.
6. The Archaeologist Badger
Historians have a striped badger to thank for the significant archaeological discovery of a medieval tomb in North East Berlin in 2013.
The badger was busy making its underground home on a farm in the town of Stolpe in Brandenburg, when two sculptors, who had planned an exhibit nearby, spotted what appeared to be a human pelvic bone.
Hobby archaeologists, Lars Wilhelm and Hendrikje Ring lived on the farm and were unsurprised by the find; considering a whole field of ancient graves had been found on the other side of the road in the 1960s.
Upon further investigation, the pair discovered pieces of jewelry and contacted the authorities.
Archaeologists proceeded to unearth, what appeared to be a 12th century burial site, with a total of eight graves inside, including those of two Slavic chieftains.
One was buried with a double-edged sword and a large bronze bowl at his feet, a sign, according to archaeologist Felix Biermann that he belonged to the upper classes.
The same warrior had many scars and bone breaks, evidence he had been hit by lances and swords and had fallen from a horse.
Two German tourists hiking in the Ötztal Alps, a mountain range on the border of Austria and Italy, made a surprising discovering in 1991 when they came across a body.
Incredibly well preserved, the body was described as a ‘natural mommy’ and believed to be that of an Iceman.
Due to the condition of the mommy, now known as Ötzi, details about his life were able to be reconstructed.
His clothing was made of leather and hides, and he wore a cloak woven from grass. Archaeologists believe he met a violent end as he had head trauma and an arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder. This arrowhead would have likely caused him to bleed to death.
His clothing was linked to that of a typical Neolitich traveler, with his most basic piece being an unlined fur robe stitched together from pieces of ibex, chamois, and deer skin.
His woven grass cape and a furry cap would have provided him warmth through the cooler months, and he wore leather shoes stuffed with grass.
The Iceman had several weapons on him, including a small copper-bladed ax and a flint dagger, 14 arrows, a fur arrow quiver and a bow made of yew.
4. Ancient Roman IOU’s
A surprising discovery was made during the construction of the new European headquarters for Bloomberg LP in the City of London. While excavating the site between 2010 and 2013, 2,000-year-old IOUs and Roman ‘notepads’ were found.
Nearly 405 examples of the wooden tablets were found near the new headquarters, all roughly the size of a modern iPad and made from recycled barrel staves.
Shallow depressions in the center of the wood are said to have been filled with a thin layer of beeswax, with writers then scratching their correspondence into the wax using a needle-like iron stylus, like our pens of today.
Having spent the better part of 2,000 years buried beneath the soil, only faint scratches in the wood remain, making deciphering difficult.
Digital photos were taken, and different lighting angles used to help highlight the marks to identify and translate the writing.
Like solving a Sudoku puzzle, faint words, letters and parts of letters had to be formed, taking up to a week to translate a single tablet, which are said to contain IOU information.
One was dated January 8, A.D. 57. Another dates to around 43 A.D, while a further contains “the earliest reference to London, 50 years before Tacitus cites the city in his Annals”.
The site along Queen Victoria Street rapidly grew into London’s single largest archaeological excavation of all time and yielded thousands of exquisitely preserved personal artifacts, from leather boots and jewelry to the intriguing collection of personal correspondence, loan notes, bills of sale, and court documents
3. Australian Aboriginal Tools and Weapons
Park Rangers patrolling the Innamincka Regional Reserve in the far north of the South Australian outback made an intriguing discovery whist going about their daily work in 2018.
Unprecedented low water levels, resulting in a dry creek bed led to the discovery of Aboriginal artefacts that could be as young as 100 years or as old as 10,000 years.
The rare archeological find may give experts an insight into the lives of the area’s original inhabitants.
Found in stages over a period of three months, ancient boomerangs, a digging stick, and stone tools used traditionally by the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka people were unearthed, and the traditional owners notified immediately.
The objects are being stored in controlled conditions in a secure location, where a range of methods will be used to determine their age.
Australian Heritage Services consulting archaeologist Sean Freeman said it was highly unusual to have ancient tools like these survive on-country for so many years, due to the arid environment.
Once they have been studied, they will be returned to the traditional owners.
2. 9,000-Year-Old Mask in Israel
In 2018, West Bank settler made a surprising discovery.
While walking in the hills south of Hebron, they found, what looked like a stone mask.
On closer inspection, Israeli archaeologists believe it to be a 9,000-year-old Neolithic artifact and one of the oldest surviving ritual masks in the world.
Its discovery, among other finds at the site, may help archaeologists learn more about their function, something that has eluded scholars for decades.
The artifact is being tested to confirm its authenticity and if proved authentic, it will join the list of just 15 others that have been found over the years.
Most are in the hands of private collectors and therefore difficult to glean much information from, with archaeologists keen to learn more about their purpose.
IAA Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit Ronit Lupu believes the mask may be connected to ancestor worship.
Similar in size to a human face, the mask has been completely smoothed over and the features are perfect and symmetrical.
1. Trove of Ancient Artifacts Found in Mexico
In the hunt for a sacred well in 2018, archaeologists made a game-changing discovery, one that may rewrite the story of Maya civilization.
Led by National Geographic Explorer Guillermo de Anda, a team of Mexican archaeologists working in the city of Chichèn Itzà in the Yucatàn Peninsula of Mexico were searching for a water table when they discovered a cave 80 feet below ground.
The cave is said to have been found by local farmers in 1969, however, at the request of archaeologist Victor Segovia Pinto, it was resealed.
It remained sealed for almost 50 years, until it was reopened by de Anda and his team of investigators from the Great Maya Aquifier Project.
Named Balamkù, the cave was filled with pre-Colombian artifacts spread throughout seven ritual chambers, including incense burners, decorative plates and bowls, vases, ceramic fragments, and other containers and objects. All had been untouched for over 1,000 years, and all were in extraordinarily well-preserved condition.
Described as an underground sanctuary, the find represents a significant moment in the history of Maya cities and their rituals.
Next time you come across something that’s a little odd, but not that exciting, best not discard it, as it could be valuable. Not valuable in the dollar sense, but in the historic sense. Many ancient artifacts have been discovered quite by accident over the years, so it pays to keep an eye out. Also, check out our other cool stuff showing up on screen right now. See you next time!